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'Les Misérables' Hits High Notes, But Also Skitters

'Les Misérables' Hits High Notes, But Also Skitters

I feel I have to confess to a certain partisanship. I grew up listening to Les Misérables. I've seen it performed twice and as a girl had the original Broadway cast recording down cold. It's been years since I've heard it, but watching Tom Hooper's adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel and Herbert Kretzmer's musical I realized with amusement and discomfiture that I could still sing along to just about every damn word, at least until whomever was sitting near me took it upon themselves to murder me for the greater good. These songs — and the bridges in between, for Les Misérables is a sung-through affair with almost no spoken dialogue — are permanently etched in my psyche, and I am as far from being able to look at this material with critical distance as a highly trained stage star is from an actual consumptive 1800s French urchin.

That said, can we admit that Les Misérables is an absolute beast of a musical? It faces the impossible task of compressing Victor Hugo's 1500-page novel into three hours (the screen version running a leaner 157 minutes), starting in a prison in the south of France in 1815 before leaping ahead to the town of Montreuil in 1823 and then Paris in 1832, where the main action takes place against the backdrop of the June Rebellion. It's the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), but it has a notable array of other significant characters to be dealt with, ones who love and suffer and (quite frequently) die, and all with musical accompaniment. The signature staging of the play involved a giant turntable that allowed for more fluid scene changes. On screen, that can be accompanied efficiently with an edit, but then you have to deal with the fact that smooshing a whole storyline about Valjean giving up a chance to let a stranger go down for his crimes and choosing to go on the run again ("Who Am I? / The Trial") looks incredibly rushed when taken out of the abstract.

In staging Les Misérables for screen, Hooper has taken a relatively naturalistic and grounded approach to the musical, a choice that's better suited to the subject matter of the story than to the fact that it takes place entirely in song. The vocals were recorded live on set, the backdrops are grimy in a poetic period Gallic style and the big numbers are frequently recorded in close-up, the camera holding on intimate shots of the performers as they stand or sit and sing. The film (which was shot by Danny Cohen, who also served as cinematographer on The King's Speech) treats its songs as it would dialogue, except that dialogue rarely involves spouting about one's feelings at length out loud to no one, a tic that makes much more sense set to music. It's an infuriatingly static way to shoot musical numbers, and it diminishes the bombastic grandeur many of these songs have. 

Éponine (singer and stage actress Samantha Barks) belts out her anguish about her unrequited love while huddled against a pillar; on the big sequence "One Day More" we cut abruptly between different faces as if everyone's in their own individual music video. It's only Russell Crowe in the role of Javert, the police inspector who's devoted his life to chasing down Valjean, who gets the kind of grandiose staging the material demands in his two big songs, as he wanders along prominent Parisian landmarks and the camera swings out to take in the city.

Crowe is, perhaps not coincidentally, the weakest singer, and despite his musical side career looks uncomfortable in the role of Javert, his concentration all seeming to go toward his serviceable warbling rather than acting. But much of the rest of the cast is terrific, particularly not-so-secret theater geeks Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who settle into their roles like they've spent their lives waiting for this opportunity. Hathaway's in fact so good as Fantine, the factory worker forced into prostitution to support her daughter Cosette near the start of the story, that the film staggers a bit after her character departs, her killer rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" one of its emotional highlights. 

Eddie Redmayne's a pleasant surprise as Marius, the idealistic student torn between his love for the grown Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and his desire to join his friends at the barricades for the uprising — the lovers tend to be the two blandest characters in the ensemble, but he finds a genuine gallantry and sweetness to the would-be revolutionary. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, on the other hand, play designated comic relief couple the Thénardiers even broader than that description would suggest — though "Master of the House" is one of the most dynamically staged of the songs, the tonal difference between their appearances and the rest of the film is jolting.

Even at a generous running time that matches this season's other giant award candidates, Les Misérables seems like it's in a hurry, skittering from one number to the next without interlude. After Hathaway's early high point, it starts to feel numbing, an unending barrage of musical emoting carrying us through Valjean's adopting of Cosette, the latter's first encounter with Marius, the battle at the barricade and a last hour that can feel like it's a non-stop series of death arias. But even if this isn't a great screen adaptation of the musical, there's no resisting the ending, which pairs the film's two brightest stars and then has everyone join in on a reprise of "Do You Hear The People Sing?" Say, do you hear the distant drums? Maybe not, but at that moment the voices coming from the screen and the tune they're crooning are rousing enough to draw a few tears.

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Variety Reviews... || ||

REVIEW: Hathaway's A Dream But 'Les Misérables' Doesn't Sing

REVIEW: Hathaway's A Dream But 'Les Misérables' Doesn't Sing

As a faithful rendering of a justly beloved musical, Les Misérables will more than satisfy the show's legions of fans. Even so, director Tom Hooper and the producers have taken a number of artistic liberties with this lavish bigscreen interpretation. more »

On the Scene || ||

Jackman, Hathaway & Co-Stars Are Masters Of The House At 'Les Misérables' Premiere

Jackman, Hathaway & Co-Stars Are Masters Of The House At 'Les Misérables' Premiere

Fans stormed London's Leicester Square to join the revolution on Wednesday night: the world premiere of  Les Misérables. The barricades were up, not to hold back National Guardsmen but to restrain fans who who turned up to salute the movie's lead Hugh Jackman, Londoner (and the movie's Marius), Eddie Redmayne and the rest of the main cast.  more »

Close Reads || ||

Handicapping The Performances Of 'Les Misérables' — Who Will Dazzle In the Movie Musical?

Handicapping The Performances Of 'Les Misérables' —  Who Will Dazzle In the Movie Musical?

The highly anticipated Les Misérables is on track to become this year’s Chicago — a crowd-pleasing, award-winning, budget-busting musical extravaganza that will sharply divide audiences on the respective talents of its singing, emoting, showboating stars. The stakes are raised by the actors having sung their parts live on set — accompanied by a piano, with the orchestra added in post-production — instead of recording the songs in the safety of a studio and lip-synching during their scenes. The debates over who proved a genuine triple-threat and who embarrassed themselves will last for weeks as we barrel into Oscar season, but let’s get the ball rolling now by ranking who we’re expecting to dazzle us — and who’ll disappoint.
more »

Newswire || ||

Anne Hathaway Buzzes About Her Short Hair In Oscar-Buzzed 'Les Misérables'

Anne Hathaway Buzzes About Her Short Hair In Oscar-Buzzed 'Les Misérables'

The film version of Les Misérables is building momentum ahead of its Christmas roll-out in the States, and much has been made about Anne Hathaway's very slimmed down look. She even made fun of her much shorter hair style, likening her new 'look' to resembling her brother.
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First Looks || ||

Early Reaction: Oscar Race Heats Up As NYC Screening Of 'Les Miserables' Prompts Cheers & Tears

Early Reaction: Oscar Race Heats Up As NYC Screening Of 'Les Miserables' Prompts Cheers & Tears

Judging from a raucously well-received  New York screening of Les Misérables on Friday afternooon, the most exciting aspect of the 2013 Oscar race will be  a contest between the precision of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and the passion of Tom Hooper's epic musical. An enthusiastic audience that included Anne Hathaway's actress mother Kathleen Ann (she gave her daughter a big thumbs up from the crowd), applauded and sniffled its way through the two-hour-39-minute feature and a post-screening at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.  more »

First Looks || ||

Vogue Makes 'Les Miserables' Cast Look Not So Miserable

Vogue Makes 'Les Miserables' Cast Look Not So Miserable

Class warfare never looked so chic.  The new issue of Vogue magazine — which depicts Les Miserables star, and recent Saturday Night Live hostAnne Hathaway, on the cover — features a lush Annie Leibovitz photo feature, spotlighting the actress, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Russell Crowe, and other cast members. Check them out after the jump.  [Vogue] more »

Watch This || ||

New 'Les Miserables' Trailer: Will Jackman, Crowe, Hathaway Sing Their Way To Oscar?

New 'Les Miserables' Trailer: Will Jackman, Crowe, Hathaway Sing Their Way To Oscar?

I'll admit I was a bit iffy on this whole live singing concept in Tom Hooper's epic Les Miserables film adaptation... until now. The new international trailer swells with emotion, as everyone from Hugh Jackman to Anne Hathaway, to Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe, and Eddie Redmayne warble Claude-Michel Schönberg's iconic tunes like their Oscar hopes depend on it. Which they do. more »

Biz Break || ||

Jay-Z, Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal & More Campaign For Obama; Anheuser-Busch Not Thrilled With Flight: Biz Break

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14:  Jay-Z attends a press conference on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to announce that he will headline the 'Budweiser Made In America' Two Day Music Festival in Philadelphia this Labor Day Weekend on May 14, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bill McCay/FilmMagic)

Also in Tuesday morning's news round-up: Osama Bin Laden raid pic Seal Team Six is a big Nat Geo hit; Cate Blanchett heads to Middle East jury duty; And Imodgen Poots eyes a Zac Efron romantic comedy.
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Biz Break || ||

Anne Hathaway Takes On A Rom-Com; Paul Dano Joins Prisoners

Anne Hathaway Takes On A Rom-Com; Paul Dano Joins Prisoners

Also in Tuesday morning's round-up of news briefs: Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci will receive honors at an upcoming awards event. Ron Perlman joins a psychological thriller and remembering producer Hank Moonjean.
more »

Biz Break || ||

Anne Hathaway To Do Cabaret One Night Only; Ruben Fleischer Eyes Zombieland: Biz Break

Anne Hathaway To Do Cabaret One Night Only; Ruben Fleischer Eyes Zombieland: Biz Break

Also in Wednesday afternoon's round-up of news briefs, a Tony Bennett documentary is headed to theaters. John Boorman will lead the jury in a Moroccan festival. And China goes for the film jugular at the upcoming Tokyo International Film Festival.
more »

Watch This || ||

WATCH: Jackman, Hathaway And Seyfried Sing In Extended Making Of Les Miserables Clip

WATCH: Jackman, Hathaway And Seyfried Sing In Extended Making Of Les Miserables Clip

Do you hear the people sing? Actually, they're not just people, they're ac-tors! I'm talking Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne, the cast of Oscar winner Tom Hooper's poverty-never-looked-so-expensive film adaptation of Les Miserables. Each can be heard performing in this extended clip about Hooper's novel approach to making of the movie musical that's based on Victor Hugo's classic novel about French politics and revolution. Russell Crowe, who plays Inspector Javert and once sang for the much-mocked band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, is also in the clip, although he doesn't show off his pipes. more »

Politics || ||

President Obama: Anne Hathaway Was The Best Part Of The Dark Knight Rises

President Obama: Anne Hathaway Was The Best Part Of The Dark Knight Rises

Yesterday at a $35,800-per-ticket fundraiser at the Westport, Connecticut home of Harvey Weinstein, President Obama big upped fellow dinner guest/event co-host Anne Hathaway while pretty much nailing his critique of The Dark Knight Rises: "She's spectacular," POTUS enthused. "I got a chance to see Batman, and she was the best thing in it. That's just my personal opinion." Ours too, Mr. President. Ours, too.
more »

Biz Break || ||

Natalie Portman & Benjamin Millepied Make it Official; Marvel Sued for Avengers Briefcase: Biz Break

13 March 2006 - New York, NY - Natalie Portman at NY Premiere of 'V for Vendetta' at the Rose Theatre.  Photo Credit Jackson Lee/Admedia
admphotos070360_amp_vvendetta_JL_015.jpg
(Newscom TagID: admphotos070360)    [Photo via Newscom]

Also in Monday morning's round-up of news briefs, a slew of stars and moguls expected in an Obama fundraiser. Celeste and Jesse Forever triumphs at the specialty box office and a rom-com heads to Phase 4 Films.
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Happenings || ||

Celeste and Jesse Forever Brings Out the Star-Wattage at NYC Premiere

New York, NY, 8/1/2012 - The Peggy Siegal Company presents the after party for the special NY screening of Sony Pictures Classics' CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER in support of the International Rescue Committee.  The film stars screenplay writer Rashida Jones, co-writer Will McCormack and Rebecca Dayan.

-PICTURED: Rashida Jones and Lee Toland Krieger (Director)
-PHOTO by: Amanda Schwab/Startraksphoto.com
-FILENAME: AMR5544800
-LOCATION: Hotel Chantelle

Startraks Photo
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Indie pic Celeste and Jesse Forever played Sundance back in January and achieved that much sought-after hallmark of success: an acquisition deal with a big-name distributor - in this case the venerable Sony Pictures Classics. But the movie that had some false starts before shooting began did make it to the screen and if a gala screening of the film last night in New York is any measure, it should see more success. In addition to cast members Rashida Jones (who also co-wrote the film) and Rebecca Dayan as well as writer Will McCormack and director Lee Toland Krieger, Anne Hathaway, Paul Rudd, David Schwimmer, Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Andy Cohen and Max Greenfield turned out for the event, hosted by The Peggy Siegal Company and the International Rescue Committee.
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